Alaska Senators seek a delay in closing of base

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Alaska's senators want to delay the military base realignment and closures in the wake of the Defense Department's recommendation to remove jet fighters and most personnel from Eielson Air Force Base.

Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday co-sponsored legislation introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., that would delay the base closure process until most troops return from Iraq and a broad military strategy review is complete.

Local officials in Fairbanks are scrambling to prepare a response to the recommendation to gut Eielson of most active military personnel. Members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission will visit Fairbanks and conduct a public hearing June 15. Chairman Anthony Principi and at least two other members will attend.

Murkowski said the base realignment and closure recommendations are far-reaching and would have enormous effects on communities such as Fairbanks.

"This legislation appropriately delays implementation of the recommendations until we have a more thorough inventory of our military assets and priorities," she said of Thune's measure.

Similar legislation has failed in the Senate in recent years.

The Defense Department, in recommendations given last week to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, suggested eliminating 2,940 Air Force and civilian positions at Eielson, 30 miles southeast of Fairbanks. The base's 36 jet fighters would be sent to bases Outside.

Another 1,680 positions would be pulled from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Fort Richardson and Kulis Air Guard Base near Anchorage.

Stevens predicted last week that most of the Anchorage losses would be made up shortly by other military personnel movement plans unrelated to the base closure and realignment process.

Air Force job losses near Fairbanks would be partially offset by Army personnel transferring to Fort Wainwright, also unrelated to the base review, he said.

The Eielson losses, however, would be severe under the military's plan and Stevens promised to protest to the BRAC Commission. He did so Wednesday in a letter to Principi.

The Defense Department on Friday recommended closing 33 major bases and realigning 29 others for a 20-year savings of about $50 billion. Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota was on the closure list.

Thune's legislation would delay the process until several conditions have been met:

• The return of "substantially all" troops from Iraq.

• The military's completion of two analyses - the Quadrennial Defense Review covering overall U.S. defense needs and a separate ongoing study of overseas base needs.

• The completion of separate maritime and homeland security strategies.

• Delivery of a report to Congress on all those factors, due within a year of meeting the other criteria.

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